When Tiffany Chang entered the Miss Taiwanese American Pageant, she embarked on an experience many alumni have described as “life-changing.” The Miss Taiwanese American (MTA) Pageant (台美小姐選拔 ) is an annual competition held by the Taiwan Center Foundation of Greater Los Angeles (大洛杉磯台灣會館基金會) to “find and encourage the next generation of leaders for the Taiwanese American community.”
The Pageant offers a seven-week cram course. Chang spent hours each weekend learning about personal style, makeup, self presentation, culture and history. “Over the course of the 7 weeks I learned more about my culture and origin of Taiwan more than I would have ever anticipated,” she shares. “The knowledge and experiences I gained through Miss Taiwanese American training are greatly valuable and ones that I will take with me throughout my life.”
Each year, upon completion of the workshops and a final performance, a court of young women is selected as ambassadors to “serve and represent the Taiwanese American community.”
Chang, crowned Queen in 2022, took this creed to heart. Like many other contestants, she was most interested in the opportunity to “build an understanding of [her] own identity, [her] Taiwanese American heritage.” Chang shared that she had been bullied early on and felt discriminated against for her Asian American identity; when she was younger, she’d lacked the self confidence to stand up for herself and often doubted her self worth:
“I realized that I could no longer remain silent and worked hard to find empowerment through gaining self confidence and finding my voice where I started my own non-profit, began Taiwanese Affinity club at school, participated in leadership council, and co-directed a multi-award winning film. The old me would shy away from [big ambitions like that] but I made a resolution to myself to actively seek out opportunities empowering others. I would like to use this pageant to inspire young individuals who are going through the same journey of struggle with confidence, mental well being, and ability to use their voice. I would like to use this platform to inspire others that failures are our opportunities for growth.”
TaiwaneseAmerican.org had the opportunity to meet with Chang, who’s now a freshman at Stanford University, at the Taiwanese American Federation of Northern California’s annual Lunar New Year Banquet just a few miles away.
We chatted about the robot she’d built as the talent portion of the Pageant (“that’s like the most Stanford thing ever,” Ho Chie said). Chang had actually made three prototypes before finally creating the one that would “walk” the stage with her. In just a four-minute talent showcase, Chang shared not only how the robot was made, but also her hope that more young women would cultivate a curiosity for STEM. The robot also pays homage to the contribution of Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans: there are the famous semiconductors, yes, but Taiwan has also borne strong women leadership and pioneering immigrants in nearly every sector. The path ahead truly motivates Chang: “In 2021, 4 out of 10 technological breakthroughs were healthcare related. Telemedicine, biomedical devices, predictive diagnostics, wearable sensors and a host of new apps will transform how people manage their health. Sustainable innovation is something I am also excited about. Tackling the climate emergency has never been more urgent where we need to take actions to meet our ambitious climate targets in time. The key driver for this to happen is innovation. It is obvious we can not continue to rely on fossil fuels to stop global warming. I am excited to learn the production of our own on-demand energy and raw materials that can be replenished on an ongoing basis.”
Reflecting upon her own identity as a third-generation Taiwanese American, Chang then shared, “it is ultimately up to us to decide who we are. Many do not realize that it is important to make the distinction between Taiwanese and Chinese for ourselves; if we don’t, others will impose it on us. The [PRC’s] regime has a political agenda to force the idea of national boundaries on the notion of culture–’everyone who shares some cultural heritage from China has to be part of us politically.’ This… is so charged because China is forcing us to [concede] our nationality based on a diverse set of cultural experiences. We must resist others to force their identity on us… we must take ownership of our own identity.”
She also thoughtfully points out that for many, identity spans more than race or ethnicity: “Identity is externally imposed and internally constructed at the same time. It is externally imposed where we ask ourselves ‘How do others perceive me?’ and it is internally constructed where we determine how we identify ourselves.”
For other young Taiwanese and Asian Americans, she offers sage words of advice – as Taiwanese identity suffers the external threat of geopolitical forces, personal identity can also suffer the external threat of stigmas like the model minority myth: “It is important to dismantle the model minority myth… characterizing Asian Americans as a model minority flattens Asian Americans into a singular, narrow narrative which does such great disservice to us. I would like to break the stigma of the model minority myth, where I would like to share that it’s okay to not be perfect AND to realize that our failures are our opportunities for growth. If we can learn from our failures, then they are actually a success where it allows us growth and self improvement.
Failures create a unique opportunity for self growth and provide opportunities to evaluate our strengths and make them even stronger. Instead of [feeling trapped by] the stereotype, young Taiwanese Americans should celebrate failures as actually beneficial and as an essential part of our self-development.”
Chang is an articulate and kind ambassador for the Taiwanese American community, and at the banquet she was able to meet with another ambassador: Taiwan’s appointed representative to the United States, Hsiao Bi-Khim.
For young Taiwanese and Taiwanese American women, inspiration is everywhere: in Hsiao Bi-Khim; in Tsai Ing-Wen, the first woman president; in the women who make up, as of 2022, 42.5% of the Taiwanese legislature. Chang holds them in high esteem, but also holds her family close to her heart: “My Ama showed me the modern society woman as she is resilient, compassionate, and innovative. As matriarch of the family, she raised two exceptional women, all of whom inspire me to find the willpower to persevere through any obstacle, especially my identity. I believe she is the true embodiment of Taiwanese values of patience, hard work, and modesty. She is my role model to being the connectional bridge to standing up as a minority and woman. I hope to utilize my grandmother’s empowerment to serve back and further empower the Taiwanese community as well as showcase women’s intelligence and leadership.”
Well, we think she’s doing just that.